Last Thursday I attended the second mayoral primary debate, sponsored by the Jackson branch of the NAACP, and held at the Masonic Temple on Lynch St. There are two more scheduled for next week and most likely others to come that have not yet been publicly announced. Almost all of the candidates attended, though conspicuous in his absence was Mayor Harvey Johnson. And that was noted by the other candidates as well as the audience. In fact, the biggest applause lines of the night came when candidates noted or questioned why the mayor was not there (Regina Quinn, Robert Amos, Chokwe Lumumba).
The mayor had also not attended the prior debate, held the weekend before, which raises the question: Is this a political strategy by the mayor and his campaign? Has his campaign made the calculation that the runoff will consist of the mayor and someone else, and that he has nothing to gain by engaging his numerous opponents (emphasis on the plural) until the runoff election? Will this strategy be acceptable to the voters? Only time will tell.
As for the debate, with all due respect to the candidates, it had the feel of a spring training baseball game, the established veterans just looking to getting in shape for opening day, the long-shots looking to do something spectacular to stand out so that they don’t get cut, and the high draft choices doing just enough, trying to gauge where they stood in the race to make the final cut. It had the sense of a rehearsal for the real thing. A word or two about the debate format: with so many candidates, it is hard to get any sense of the differences between the candidates, as there is no opportunity for follow-up questions or for the candidates to engage each other. And three hours is a very long time for a debate. I hope future debate organizers take heed.
Oddly, the candidates for the most part did not attack the incumbent mayor (and until a poll comes out he is the perceived front runner), other than those who questioned why he was not there. A notable exception was Councilman Lumumba, who in answer to a debate question suggested that if the mayor could not fix the city’s infrastructure in 12 years than he probably wasn’t going to do it in four. And the candidates at the debate also did not criticize each other directly, barely acknowledging their opponents' presence. As a strategy that seems self-defeating; conventional political wisdom says that the purpose of the primary is to choose who will run against Mayor Johnson in the runoff, so it would seem that the candidates and their campaigns at this debate would be trying to differentiate themselves from the other challengers and attempt to consolidate the anti-Johnson vote. So far, they all appear to be playing nice with each other.
In the next few posts I’d like to examine the candidate’s campaigns in a bit more depth: coming up will be an examination of their online and on the ground presence. I’ll also discuss Mayor Johnson’s telephonic town hall, held last night, in a subsequent entry.
Attending the March 14th NAACP debate: Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, William Bright, Richard C. Williams Jr., Regina Quinn, Francis Smith, Jonathan Lee, Gwendolyn Ward Osborne Chapman, Robert Amos and John H. Jones. Mayor Johnson sent Roosevelt Daniels to the debate as his surrogate.